When Yogi Berra said "it gets late early out there" he was referring to sunny conditions at old Yankee Stadium, but that particular Yogism also could apply to the NHL's ongoing labor strife.
With nearly half of the 2012-13 season canceled already, one would assume there'd be a sense of urgency on both sides to get a deal done. Instead, negotiations have hit another snag as the owners and players seem to be running out of ideas.
The optimists and realists out there will tell you that there is still time to salvage the season and they'd be right. We've been told a deal will come together quickly when we expect it least. Hopefully, that out-of-the-blue moment will take place soon because the posturing that continues to go on in this standoff has become tiresome to say the least.
Since last week's round of negotiations crashed and burned with the rejection of an NHLPA counter-proposal, there has been little action at all. Delegations for both the owners and players met with the help of federal mediators earlier this week, but, not unlike the first they tried that strategy, those sessions failed to create any sort of momentum.
At this late stage it obviously doesn't help to simply waste a week like the two sides just did. How much longer can the NHL and NHLPA spin their wheels before acknowledging the harsh reality that a deal may not get done in time to save the season?
Although NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said earlier this week there is no deadline to save the season it's high time the league issued a drop-dead date.
If the two sides plan to waste time until they absolutely have to make a deal to save the season then the least they could do is give the fans a deadline. At this point, all people want to know is if there is going to be a season or not, so let's actually pinpoint a date when the new CBA needs to be completed to save the campaign.
I know people aren't forced to follow labor news, but a drop-dead date could actually alleviate some of the stress hardcore hockey fans feel when they check for updates and find no progress has been made. With a drop-dead date, it'd be easier for a fan to justify tuning out of this silly squabble until they absolutely need to.
Perhaps a drop-dead date could force the negotiations to become more urgent, although that's probably a long shot. Even though they won't set an official deadline, it's likely both sides have a rough idea as to when a new CBA needs to be finished in order to avoid losing another season like we did in 2004-05.
The next tactic for the NHLPA could be either voting to decertify or to file a disclaimer of interest. Those legal strategies are two different ways of achieving the same thing, which is the dissolution of the union that would allow the players to fight the league with anti-trust lawsuits.
For more information on the difference between decertification and disclaimer of interest check out TSN.ca legal analyst Eric Macramalla's thorough guide to the topics here: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=411412
Whether or not either of those legal avenues will be used is anybody's guess and even if they are employed there's no guarantee that they'll work. At this point, however, all new ideas are welcome because it sure beats wasting valuable time that could be spent negotiating.
For the time being, if the league and NHLPA can't find time to hash out their differences they could give us a ticking clock that we can gander at every now and then.